SFUSD scrambling to fill classrooms amid teacher shortage

San Francisco’s sky-high cost of living is not only driving public school teachers out of The City, it’s apparently now preventing them from even coming here to begin with.

With less than a month until the 2015-16 school year, the San Francisco Unified School District is still trying to find more than three dozen teachers to fill its classrooms, a task exacerbated by numerous factors that has prompted the district to implement new recruitment tactics.

Teachers of the baby-boomer era retiring, a nationwide drop in the past decade of those entering the profession, and a lack of housing in The City available on a teacher’s salary — which was $69,135 last year for a teacher with 12 years of experience (the average for the SFUSD) — are considered by school leaders as the primary reasons for a lack of teachers.
The combination of such factors has created what some have dubbed a perfect storm of teacher scarcity.

“Not only is there a teacher shortage, but it’s increasingly harder to hire teachers in San Francisco because of our cost of living,” said Board of Education Commissioner Sandra Fewer. “There will be a resurgence of young people seeking teaching credentials, but this year is hard.”

The situation has called for measures unprecedented in recent years, including a letter from Superintendent Richard Carranza earlier this month to teachers encouraging them to recruit fellow educators, and year-round recruitment programs implemented by the SFUSD throughout the past school year.

At the time of Carranza’s July 15 letter to teachers, some 92 classrooms were still unfilled. That number had shrunk to 60 vacancies as of July 22, said Monica Vasquez, chief human resources officer for the SFUSD.

“This is the busiest time for us when we hire and process,” Vasquez said. “Every day that number goes down.”

Vasquez said she is confident there will be enough teachers for each of the district’s more than 130 schools by the time the school year begins Aug. 17. But school leaders remain concerned about what will keep them in The City once teachers are hired.

“Affordable housing for beginning teachers is really almost non-existent,” said Lita Blanc, president of United Educators of San Francisco, the teachers union that represents some 6,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and other educators. “The word is sort of out that you might be able to come to San Francisco, but it’s hard to stay in San Francisco.”

Another challenge is that San Francisco, and the rest of the country, is fresh out of a major recession, in which The City saw more than 500 teachers laid off around 2011 and 2012.
“Those were hard budget years; we were cut over $200 million,” Fewer said. “Most of the teachers were rehired through our rainy day fund, but really the message was that there isn’t a lot of stability in teaching, which is really a falsehood because we will always need teachers.”

However, the phenomenon of a teacher shortage is not new to the SFUSD. As of last week, there were actually 17 fewer classroom vacancies for full-time teachers than last year.

The district is also more than aware of the difficulty in retaining teachers due to housing costs. Last spring, after an eight-month hiatus during contract negotiations between the SFUSD and teachers union, an educator housing working group reopened studying a three-prong solution to helping teachers and paraprofessionals maintain access to housing.

Rental assistance, a housing development and homeownership assistance are the three methods that city leaders believe could make a difference in helping teachers afford to live in San Francisco.

“San Francisco, everybody knows, is an expensive city to live in,” Vasquez said. “Part of what the district has been doing is collaborating with The City and teachers union to brainstorm how we can work toward making The City affordable for our workforce.”

But some teachers still ultimately have to face the fact that living in The City long-term may not be an option, said Blanc.

“Conceivably, when you’re single, you make a go of it for a short period of time, but even that’s difficult for many,” she said. “But as soon as [teachers] want to start a family or possibly buy a place, San Francisco is no longer affordable.”

For Blanc, who taught at George Moscone Elementary School for 27 years, the difficulty of retaining teachers in The City hit too close to home when a beloved staff member of eight years left the school in the middle of the 2014-15 school year after unsuccessfully spending a year trying to find a home to rent in San Francisco.

The departure of that educator followed another staff member who had left only a month into the school year for a job in another Bay Area school district, a move so unusual for the school that Blanc called it “unprecedented.”

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